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How to Avoid Sexual Harassment Charges

These days, sexual harassment is a real issue for all companies. It should never be tolerated in the workplace. Because it is illegal, your company could face fines, lawsuits, and eventual ruin if sexual harassment occurs in the workplace and goes unchecked.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

In order to avoid sexual harassment, you must first make your employees aware of what it entails. Sexual harassment is not just limited to lewd comments and improper touching; it encompasses a wide range of behaviors and comments. Even office d├ęcor can be considered sexual harassment. Below is a list of just a few of the actions that can be considered sexual harassment:

  • Discussing sexual activities
  • Telling inappropriate or off-color jokes
  • Promising advances in pay or position in exchange for sexual favors
  • Unwelcome touching or groping
  • Displaying suggestive or pornographic pictures
  • Commenting on physical attributes, such as bra size
  • Verbal abuse described as humor
  • Questions about a person's sexual activity or orientation
  • Leering or staring
It is important to remember that sexual harassment is not limited to just women; men can be victims of sexual harassment as well.

How to Avoid Sexual Harassment Charges
One of the most effective ways to avoid sexual harassment charges is to establish an environment that has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and enforces it. Many companies hold sexual harassment seminars that all employees are required to attend, and then have them sign a sheet saying they completed the training.

Oftentimes, employees will not know that their behavior is offensive, nor is their intent malicious. Many times, it is the result of joking between two parties getting out of hand. For this reason, it's important to make certain each party knows what is considered appropriate and what is not.

Your HR department should have mandatory sexual harassment/workplace respect seminars for all employees. These seminars should go over what is and what isn't appropriate conduct. In addition, it should cover the steps that need to be taken if an employee feels he or she has been harassed.

Your company should also have a complaint procedure in place for those who have been harassed. A typical procedure involves the following:

  • Employees should be encouraged to speak up if they feel certain jokes or conversations are inappropriate; if the behavior continues, they should be encouraged to report it.

  • The accuser should immediately report the harassment to the HR Director or his/her immediate supervisor or general manager.

  • The supervisor or general manager should immediately report the complaint to the HR Director.

  • Once the appropriate people have been informed of the complaint, an investigation should take place. This typically involves interviewing the accuser and the accused, as well as any witnesses.

  • After the investigation takes place, a determination will be made. Each company should have a policy concerning sexual harassment; typically, it will include probation or penalties up to and including termination. In addition, steps should be taken to prevent further occurrences. This could include moving employees to different areas of the office, removing any offensive images, or blocking internet access to certain sites.

Sexual harassment charges are serious and can lead to embarrassment, scandal and ruin for a company or its employers. Educating employees on sexual harassment and establishing policies for enforcement will help to avoid sexual harassment charges.

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